The Day I Ddongchimmed Poduri
So it was a year and a day ago, and my kindergarten had a festival at a local sportsground.
Now, in Korea, most official organizations have a mascot, a manga-ish cartoon character or two that represent their organization, and the Korean police are no different. Their mascot is Poduri, a little cartoon police officer. Government organizations, being what they are, are cool to little kids, which is a very cool thing. You have a festival? The police will send along a guy dressed in a Poduri costume, as will the fire department, Korail, the train management company etc, etc.
So we have a festival (basically an advertisement for the non-government, for-profit kindergarten) with lots of fun kid stuff and a bunch of college kids hired for a pittance, walking around dressed in character costumes with comically outsized heads.
I have spoken of the ddong chim before—see below. Clasp your hands together and protrude your two index fingers, find an ass, probe that bad boy with said protruded fingers. That simple.
So I am working the cotton candy stall. Making gigantic clouds of cotton candy for the kids I like and pathetic little wisps for the ones I don’t. It’s a long day and I get really bored, sitting there with sticky cotton candy fragments clinging to me and just wanting to head home, have a shower and then meet my mates for a meal and a few beers.
Still, all is not lost. I have a gang of little dudes hanging out with me—I am the candy man at this point—and we’re chilling, much to the approval of the parents, because I’m using English as I spin cotton candy. So I start giving dares. I make a truly giant cloud of cotton candy and offer it to any of the little dudes who are willing to go and give Poduri—representing the Korean police force—a really solid ddong chim. They all giggle at the prospect, but none are really willing. The day wears on and the sugar sack empties, so I finally get a break. I pack up the station with all of my little gang. It is then that inspiration strikes.
I will ddong chim Poduri.
I announce my intention to the pack of munchkins surrounding me, and they signal their approval. So we stalk Poduri. It’s not too hard, poor guy is trapped in an oversized cartoon character head. Not too much peripheral vision going on right there. We are following Poduri, a large white guy and a flock of small Korean children slowly stalking a Korean college kid dressed as a cartoon character.
I strike, digging my fingers in as far as they will go, which is not far, considering the heavy fabric of the costume and the pants the poor kid is probably wearing underneath it. Still, appearances are everything, and going on appearances? I have administered an epic ddong chim of hideous proportions, while telling the world about it with a loud “Ddong Chim!”
I am now a comedy genius (if you are a six-year-old Korean) and am hailed as such by my entourage. Poduri has something of a dissenting view on the matter, however. Poduri? Poduri is seriously, seriously pissed. Not a happy camper. Livid.
So what do you do if you are Poduri in that case? Complain. Poduri marches off to my boss, his wife and a gathering of sycophantic dignitaries, there to tell my boss how wonderful he is and to do deals. Then Poduri arrives. He has made a massive tactical mistake, though. He retains the Poduri head. Had he removed the head and looked my boss in the eyes, I probably would have been in trouble. As it is, my boss has Poduri , the character, not the poor kid in the costume, complaining to him while wildly gesticulating at me and my pack of co-conspirators. The group of dignitaries, along with my boss and his wife, are really struggling to keep straight faces at this point. Some are beginning to laugh. It is the final straw. Poduri marches past me, uttering dire threats in Korean and leaves. Poor guy has had enough.
Poduri’s ass? I pwned it.
Driving School - Korean Style
Having never driven in my home country, I determined that I would get a Korean driving license and take to the roads of Korea, the store of pent up rage and frustration lingering in my soul being somewhat insufficient at that time. Driving in Korea would soon remedy that unfortunate situation.
I ventured off to the world-renowned (in Korea) driving school that is the Hang Dae Driving Academy for a series of lessons that were as incomplete as the instructors were incompetent. It was a grubby little school with clapped out cars, shabby buildings and aging working-class instructors who wore vaguely paramilitary uniforms. The receptionist was a tiny little woman who was deceptively aggressive and the rooms stank of burning kerosene from the space heaters. I was off to a good start.
After my “Course Test,” a 10 km/h frenzy of “s” turns and reversing (that was actually unexpectedly useful), I was unleashed upon the mean streets of Southern Seoul in a beaten up Hyundai Verna with my assigned co-pilot. He was like an adult Korean Peter Brady who wore CHIPS style dark glasses at night, sported socks under cheap plastic shower slippers and had personal hygiene problems. Dude must have been beating the ladies off with a stick. But I digress. His method of teaching involved vague hand motions coupled with vague mumbled instructions, and for the most part he slouched down in his seat and sullenly played video games on his cell-phone.
The low point of my instruction came when someone made a huge mistake and assigned me to a new car with a competent instructor one night—I realized what I was missing out on. I learned more from the competent guy in one and a half hours’ instruction than in all of the other lessons I took. I all but demanded the guy for the rest of my lessons, but a young Korean woman swiftly put paid to that plan as she saw me stealing “her” instructor from the receptionist and shut me down in a big way. I then went back to Peter Brady, the bottom of the barrel.
I passed my driving test—admittedly not the hardest thing to do—and claimed my Korean driver’s license after “15” hours behind the wheel.
It’s one way to learn to drive.
Best Driver (Bus) #2
Seoul’s bus drivers continue to push bus driving in bold new directions. They are truly dedicated to their craft, demonstrating a healthy disregard for traffic signals and a reliance on sudden braking maneuvers that can only really be appreciated by a seasoned connoisseur. While bus drivers in other Korean cities continue down their entirely dull and reasonable path, Seoul’s bus “drivers” are really going for the potential, and I for one salute their anarchic vision of a world without traffic regulations.